Photography curator and artist Efrem Zelony-Mindell could face life in prison after they were arrested Friday, December 16 for allegedly attempting to have sex with a nine-year-old boy. Following a series of online conversations between Zelony-Mindell and undercover Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents, the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York charged the curator with attempted enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, distribution of child pornography, and possession of child pornography.
A complaint outlining the charges alleges that Zelony-Mindell sent their first message to an undercover FBI agent on April 29 of this year. The curator then expressed their desire to engage in sexual activity with a minor and sent child pornography, the document says. In May, the undercover officer sent Zelony-Mindell the contact information of a second FBI agent, who was posing as the father of a nine-year-old boy. In a series of disturbing messages, Zelony-Mindell “made clear that he [sic] wanted to engage in sexual activity” with the child and agreed to meet the child even though the boy would be “knocked out a little bit” with sleep medication, according to a statement released last Friday by the Attorney General’s Office.
On December 16, Zelony-Mindell agreed to meet the supposed father on a Manhattan street corner and return to his apartment, where they would meet the child. At the street corner, Zelony-Mindell instead met a third FBI agent and was arrested.
Zelony-Mindell earned a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, where they have since exhibited their work and given lectures, before embarking on a career as an artist and curator. This year, their art was included in the National Photography Invitational in Iowa City, an event which features the work of 16 graduate students from five United States universities; in 2021, they earned a place on the Lucie Foundation Photo Book Awards Shortlist for editing the book Primal Sight (2021), a compilation of works by 146 artists. In 2020, Zelony-Mindell’s book n e w f l e s h (2019) was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.
Zelony-Mindell has also curated a host of exhibitions across the country, including recent exhibitions at Texas Tech University and Ohio University (where they served as juror), and in 2018, they organized the 57-artist Re: Art Show in Brooklyn. They served as a board member of the Robert Giard Foundation, an organization that aimed to preserve the late artist’s legacy through grant programs, before it closed this year. Additionally, Zelony-Mindell’s books are in the libraries of major institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
At the time of their arrest, Zelony-Mindell was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Arkansas, according to a bio on the artist’s website. The university has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment. Hyperallergic has also attempted to reach the School of Visual Arts.
“As alleged, Mr. Zelony-Mindell’s actions are nearly unfathomable,” FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said in a statement. “Today’s action should serve as a reminder to anyone who seeks to prey on children — the FBI Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force and our law enforcement partners will continue to aggressively pursue you and hold you accountable.”